Forty is a collection of poems that can be used as meditations during Lent. There are 40 of them. I hope they are helpful.
Forty 01: Ash
The journey begins.
Yet again the journey begins and we breathe a heavy sigh of relief that there are as many beginnings as we need to perfect this love thing.
Ash is bitter and dead.
But God can take even the ashes of our lives and breathe something new into them; reform them, revitalise them, remake them.
I think it’s the tears.
I think it’s the tears of regret and remorse and repentance, the loss of something precious, the hope of something new, that helps to bring that new life.
He knows us.
He knows us infinitely more than we know ourselves and he is patient and loving and good.
The journey begins.
Even now the journey begins and what may start in ash will end in life.
Forty 02: Wilderness
We rarely choose the wilderness. We rarely seek the inhospitable, wind burned places within ourselves. It’s just that some days – too tired, too careless, too hurt – we gradually become aware of our surroundings and find that we are not where we hoped we’d be. A solitary figure on an ash rinsed plain, a long shadow stretching before us, a dead silence around us.
Even here he stands beside us, often imperceptible, beyond our ragged senses. He was here before us but he will not leave without us.
Forty 03: Stars
The Wilderness is about perspective.
It’s only when we leave the comforts of the home fire, the whirl of humanity, and enter the Wilderness that, if we can but just lift our heads, we see a glimpse of how many stars there are.
Without walls and limits and certainties we have to face how small we really are, how exposed, how vulnerable.
But at the same time the quiet small voice of a great big God whispers,
Even so, I love you.
Forty 04: Temptation
You know you want to.
Why deny yourself?
You deserve it.
No-one will know.
Everyone is doing it.
What harm can it do?
All the cool people are doing it.
You won’t regret it.
And the biggest lie? That I’m the only one who falls for it and everyone else is strong. That grace is really for others more worthy and guilt is all consuming.
Forty 05: Examine
I could sit on a mountain top and meditate, all serene and carefully windblown.
I could go to a distant country to find myself, as if myself had wandered off without taking a coat.
I could read a self-help book, only to discover that the best way to help myself is to write a bestselling self-help book.
I could take part in ancient rituals and convince myself doing the same thing for the thousandth time will improve my soul.
Or I could sit with the One who made me, the One who knows me and loves me anyway.
Forty 06: Pebble
Every pebble has its story.
Of forming, breaking, resting, rising and rolling.
Of storming, smoothing, sliding, moving and falling
Of star filled skies.
Of dark shrouded depths.
Of slate and ember dawns.
Of carnival sunsets.
Every pebble has its story.
Forty 07: Psalm
I will sing to you loudly and out of tune from the shower,
I will sing to you quietly under my breathe on the bus to work,
I will sing to you with half remembered words,
And I will make up the rest as best I can.
I will sing joyfully to you when things are going well,
I will occasionally choke out a reluctant song when they are not.
I will sing to you because you are you,
And I will be inconsistent because I am me.
Forty 08: Wrestle
Grab handfuls of God, never let go, entwine yourself with Him,
Grip on for dear life, knit yourself, tangle yourself,
Fuse, cleave, strain, strive,
Wrap yourself in Him.
Demand answers and purpose and identity.
Be greedy for Him, try to overcome Him – you won’t, but try.
This is not a distant God, He is not remote,
He will not wilt or fade,
He will not be embarrassed or lost for words,
He will not turn away, He will meet you full on.
Wrestle with your God.
Forty 09: Shoot
Life cannot be contained.
The seed falls away and the shoot reaches towards the light.
It pushes soil aside, splits rocks, cracks concrete.
It sways in the breeze, it tastes the dew and springs back from the careless tread.
Faith cannot be contained.
Once brought to life it reaches towards the light.
It pushes doubt aside, shines in dark places, gives new sight.
It helps us through the storm, it seeks out beauty and slowly heals our hurts.
Life and faith are gifts of love.
Forty 10: Drops
The droplet catching the sun at the Jordan
The bead of water becoming wine.
The tear of grief for a friend.
The splash of perfume on your feet.
The anguished perspiration.
The spit of contempt.
The spill of blood in the dust.
The garden dew of the newest of mornings.
Drops of rain on a long parched wilderness.
Forty 11: Mystery
Just when I think I know,
Just when I think I understand,
Just when I think I get it,
Just when I think I have a plan,
Just when I’ve got all the facts,
Just when I have all the quotes,
Just when I have all the answers,
Just when I have the explanations,
Just when I think I’m right,
Just when I’m better than you,
Just when I’m ready to show you how,
Just when I’m leading the way,
Forty 12: Jacob
Jacob wrestles with God. Full contact, hands on, no holds barred wrestling.
Jacob, weighing in at 170lbs, a devious little scrapper.
The Star Maker, Source of Life, The One, The Only, God.
Jacob was lucky just to have his hip put out. He must have been mad to think that he could cling on to God, that he should expect God to listen to him, that he should dare to be real before the Almighty.
Surely tiddlywinks would have been more suitable. Restrained, polite, slightly quirky. Not this visceral striving, this all-or-nothing commitment to getting to grips with faith. It can’t be right to abandon dignity and well-rehearsed phrases in exchange for growls and sighs. It can’t be right to just grab handfuls of God, to yell and grunt and strive and not go down easily.
Forty 13: Shadows
You cannot have shadows without light.
When we concentrate on the shadows, the twisted forms and startling shapes, we sometimes forget that these are only things that are blocking the light. On the other side of the shadow all is revealed and eventually everything is shown for what it is by the light.
Shadows are transformed by our imagination into serpents and slime, beasts and burdens, dangers and woes. Fear lives in the shadows and despair dwells there. But when we turn to face the light and bathe in its warmth and colour the shadows diminish and hope springs forth.
What is hope but a distant sunlit valley on a stormy shadow filled day?
Forty 14: Be
How often do we sit and stare? Some would call it idleness, a waste of time, unproductive, but to sit and to do nothing can be the most useful thing we can do. To run our fingers through the grass; to trail them through the water; to roll the pebble through our fingers and to breathe; to drift, to flow.
Busyness can be an idol made of good intentions and a desire to be productive but like all idols it soon cracks and tarnishes and crumbles. But to sit and stare, to let the mind roam, to see the details, to be content in the moment, to make space for possibilities. This is to glimpse who we were meant to be.
Forty 15: Paths
Places where others have gone before us.
Worn down by shoes and boots and sandals.
Following the easier way – the valley, the pass, the brook.
Worked out by travellers and pioneers and guides.
There is wisdom in following such paths.
But sometimes, when we are in the Wilderness, such a path may cross our way that travels in an unwanted direction. We want to follow it simply because it is a path, a connection to humanity, a joining to the journey of others. It is hard to cross the path and strike once more into the unknown, the unfamiliar, the undiscovered.
But all new paths start in such a way.
Forty 16: Dawn
The watercolour dawn seeps into our awareness and phantom light dances in our minds. The morning is here and everything begins again.
Those of us who have choices start to plan and mould and form. We see a future of possibilities and dreams; of hope and wonder.
Those of us who don’t have choices surrender to the drudge and greyness and monotony. We watch as we mudslide away from everything that we thought we would be and take on a shroud of forced indifference.
The coming of the dawn, and the One who sends it, are reminders that those who have choices must choose to carry those who don’t.
Forty 17: Who
I’ve been trying to work out who you are.
And it’s not easy.
I know you’re there but I sometimes get distracted by the packaging, the brand, the loyalty card. I find it difficult to get past the peripherals, the add-ons, the extras. I get caught up in the badges and the ceremonies and the scripts. Lost in the songs and the politics and the conformity.
Maybe I can never really know the man that walked by the lake, maybe the gulf of too many years and too different a culture is too vast, too wide, too other.
I can’t help but feel that if I met you across that chasm of time and space I wouldn’t recognise you. I’d walk right past you still looking for the construct I have in my western postmodern mind.
And if we did meet I wouldn’t understand your language or your ways as, watched by confused fishermen, we pantomimed to one another.
But then, if I lingered long enough, I’d see you reach out and touch the man afflicted with leprosy. I would stand open mouthed as your friend walked out of the tomb and breathed for the first time – again. I would see the weight of hardship fall from people’s shoulders, however briefly, as you told them wonder-filled stories. I would see them laugh. I would see them frown. I would see them change.
Then I would see you.
Then I would know you.
Forty 18: Masks
Here I am.
Look. You can see from my carefully constructed mask that I am successful, sane and sensible.
It is, of course, magnolia so as not to shock or offend. No bright jewel colours for me – no jade, no crimson, no ultramarine. It is bland and unadorned except for the tasteful accent that I have been told, by those who know, is sophisticated and mature. I will change it when it goes out of fashion.
You will recognise me by my mask because it is the same as yours.
When I am alone I occasionally remove my mask.
Under my mask are the bruises and laughter lines, the shame and the small victories, the hopes and the dreams. There is no room for magnolia here. No room for the bland. There is a wild riot of colour constantly blending and clashing. Here you will find inconsistencies and doubts, a swirl of dark and light. This is me.
There is One who has no need of masks and when I am brave I turn towards him.
He smiles and says.
There you are.
Forty 19: We
Not us and them.
Not me and you.
Casting aside the trappings of everyday tribes, the restrictive customs, the impenetrable language.
Ridding ourselves of the things that we have designed to separate us from our neighbour.
Tearing down the walls, banishing the prejudice, removing the borders.
Looking and knowing each other for what we are.
Unique and cherished.
Not us and them, simply us.
Not me and you, simply we.
Forty 20: Halfway
The brow of the hill revealing the road remaining.
The middle of the book, as the plot forms and the characters get under our skin.
The turn for home, the transformation from “how far?” to “nearly there”.
The end of the task in sight, the renewal of hope, the whisper of the dawn.
The knowledge that we can get to the place where you say, “It is finished.”
Forty 21: Palms
How did you feel as you rode through the crowds?
Rocked by the donkey like a new-born as the people threw palms in your path.
Knowing that your fickle creation were even now plotting against you, finding ways to be rid of you, their machinations drowned out by all this shouting.
Did they wonder at a wry smile on your face?
Singing “Alleluia” as they urged you to lead them down a path of violence and destruction.
Pleading with their eyes to solve their temporary ills while you trod the path of redemption and headed towards thorns and nails and blood.
Forty 22: Perfume
It was an outrageous act.
How dare she?
Did she not care about her reputation?
More importantly, did she not care about his?
And the cost. So many could be helped, so many fed, so many burdens eased.
But, for her, this was the smallest of things to do for her God.
Forty 23: Silver
Thirty silver coins counted out, the metal scraping as they slide over each other. The dull clink as they drop into the worn-out bag. Nestling in the dark as they are pushed quickly into the secret folds of a robe.
Thirty silver coins that will never be enjoyed as opportunity turns to guilt, turns to despair. Their presence stuck in the mind, a dark and ever growing shadow. A proud heart withering and dying, no longer able to accept forgiveness, no longer willing to reach out for the waiting hand of love.
Fade to black.
Forty 24: Wash
This is not right.
Look how he washes my feet. How he makes himself lower than me. On his knees rinsing away the day’s filth.
I am embarrassed.
I can barely watch as he becomes my servant. There is a part of me that wants to stop this, to put things back to the way they were.
I am angry.
He is God. Mighty God, Lord of Hosts. This is not how it should be. This is not how he should behave.
I don’t understand.
What is happening here? It’s my job to wash his feet. It’s my position. It’s always been like that. Do I really know this God at all?
Forty 25: Supper
As we have for decades.
As we have for centuries.
We break bread.
As we do every day.
We grin over our cups.
As we do on good days.
Today is for memories and promises.
Today is the same as it has always been.
Until you say, “Remember me.”
Forty 26: Sop
You hold out the dripping bread, the delicious morsel.
You know what is to come, you know there is no way now to stop what must happen.
But you can still give him a chance, a choice, a way out.
If he refuses the sop, if he turns from his plan and admits his fault, he will welcome you on Sunday morning with a shout of joy.
But it is always Friday in his heart.
He walks out.
And it is night.
Forty 27: Watches
After the supper, the garden,
After the joy, the sorrow,
After the surety, the doubt
After the day, the night,
After the laughter, the tears,
After the companionship, the loneliness,
After the promises, the testing,
After the words, the silence.
Forty 28: Betrayal
Where are you Father?
It is a dark time and I need you.
I need you now more than ever, I need to hear your voice.
I know I must do this thing but…
Where are you Father?
They are coming now.
I see the burning brands, I hear the sound of iron.
There is no turning back.
Where are you Father?
My friend is approaching,
A terrible look on his face, he no longer meets my eye.
It is time.
Forty 29: Denial
I remember the night they took you.
The fire danced on our faces as we tried to drive away the deep, deep cold.
A wild eyed madness, a vindictive excitement filled the courtyard. Smirking comments and hostile whispers crept from behind guarded hands. Stiletto accusations slipped from poisoned tongues.
“Aren’t you,” they suggested with tilted head and serpent smile, “with him?”
The surety and the hope and the bravado fled.
I heard myself say, “I don’t know this man.”
And then I heard nothing,
but the call of the morning.
Forty 30: Trial
The performance is acted out with grand gestures and knowing smiles. The stages are different but the self-delusion and the misplaced pride are the same. All the actors know their prompts and lines.
It’s just a pity you did not play your part. You could have taken on the role of helpless victim or outraged freedom fighter. You could have worn a mask like us.
But you stand there.
Strong and gentle and innocent.
What kind of entertainment is that?
Forty 31: Barabbas
The crowd strain their voices and forget any nuance of language as they hiss and spit one name; one name fed to them by infiltrators, one name that will be freed from the executioner.
Yesterday and tomorrow a common criminal, a violent man, a nuisance to be dealt with. Today, a fine fellow, a hero, an excuse.
You stand, utterly alone, but I can’t help but think that if I took the courage and leaned in close I would hear another name spoken softly; a name that will be saved this day.
That name would be mine.
Forty 32: Injustice
The old woman ravaged by the years and the toil and the despair leading her granddaughter through the endless wasteland of detritus and used up luxury, that she will never know, looking for a scrap to keep them going for another day.
The too young man, highlighted in the yellow street lamp, tottering on the railway bridge, unable to reconcile the rejection he has experienced, even from those who claim to be tolerant, because he is different. The pain and the confusion and the loneliness are just too much. Life is just too much.
The devout father attacked in the place of worship he has come to love because someone else is too lazy or too ignorant or too lost to understand their own god. Trapped in the destruction and rubble and hatred. Looking for an explanation, a justification that will never come.
A beautiful girl blinded to her own value and uniqueness because she can’t compete with the made over, air brushed and glossy lies fed to her every day of her life on pages and screens and billboards. A steel edge held against her skin in the false hope that it will take away her sense of worthlessness and pain and her need to be loved.
A beaten and scarred man staggering through mob filled streets, mocked and derided by those that, only days before, welcomed him with joy. The burdens of the whole world weighing, oh so heavily, on his innocent frame. The means of his imminent death pressing down on his shoulders as he takes the road of injustice.
Forty 33: Soldier
It’s a grand word but the reality is that the Empire is made up of a thousand squalid outposts like this one. A soldier’s lot is to enforce the will of an Emperor who will never see, never want to see, the ragged edges of what he has conquered. We go about our duties while the populace hates us and plots ways to be rid of us.
They rebel. We execute them. It’s a daily grind and we get hardened to it.
Occasionally an innocent gets caught up in the struggle but we still have a job to do, orders to follow. In the end it makes no difference to us. We make the best of it. We get what little we can.
Sometimes there’s a day like this, when a man who angered the powerful ends up on a cross. His friends can do nothing, his mother mourns her loss and what’s the point? No-one is going to remember this small act of defiance, it’s not going change the world is it?
Forty 34: Death
The fear of Man, the end of folly, the crash test wall, the tumbling from the edge of the world, the windscreen to the fly, the unspoken destiny, the final blackout, the loss of self, the crash and burn, the terror of the night, the snuffed out candle, the monster under the bed, the failing strip light, the lonely farewell.
Because of you.
The doorway of hope, the way back to the garden, the leap into the Father’s arms, the realisation of grace, the happy ending, the welcome home, the temporary phase shift, the rising of a new day, the returning blossom, the green shoot, the chance, the dream’s awakening, the vanishing point, the great transition, the continuation of everything real, the realignment of mortal and divine, the sigh of relief, the end of tears, the eyes opened, the happy reunion, the joy, the delight, the end of Winter, the moment when we meet you – face to face.
Forty 35: Grief
You are gone.
I still can’t believe it.
I will never see your familiar face, your knowing eyes, playful grin.
I will never walk the dusty road with you, hear your stories,
I will never see the hope written on the faces of those you met every day.
The whole world weighs heavy on my chest and uncontrollable tears tumble down my face.
How will I rise tomorrow and face a life without you?
What will I do now hope and courage have fled like rabbits?
I still can’t believe it.
You are gone.
Forty 36: Between
Between Death and Life,
Between Despair and Hope,
Between End and Beginning,
Between Night and Day,
Between Hell and Heaven,
Between Evil and Goodness,
Between Wilderness and Garden,
Between Friday and Sunday.
Forty 37: Risen
A will o’ the wisp.
A peripheral sensation,
A breathless eternity.
A step into the light.
Forty 38: Mary
Others would have dismissed my pain that morning in the garden. They would have reminded me of my position as a woman, they would have sent me to do busy-work so as not to see my tears. They would have looked past me, through me, down on me. They would have quietly thanked God that they were not like me.
But you, you said my name.
Forty 39: Fish
I was desperate to get to the tomb, desperate for another chance, another reality. I wanted so much to say I was sorry, so much to see you again. Then you were amongst us and everything was so big, so dreamlike, so much.
Still I could hear the call of the morning, still taste the words of denial in my mouth, still see you dying and alone.
Now I’m eating breakfast with you. Freshly caught fish, cooked over flame, I don’t taste a thing. I hear you ask me if I love you and this time I will not deny you – no matter the cost.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
Forty 40: Questions
Did it hurt a lot?
Were there moments of doubt?
Did you feel despair and isolation?
Did you think of us as we waited?
What was it like to die?
What did you do on Saturday?
Are all the stories true?
What was it like to connect with the Father again?
Was it like the prodigal son for you too or was it different?
Were there angels?
What were they like?
Was it like seeing old friends?
Is there really a place for me?
What’s it going to be like?
Will death be hard for me?
What was it like when you came back to life?
How did you get out of the grave clothes?
Why did you fold them?
Did the first breath hurt?
Did your eyes water?
Were your muscles stiff?
Did you stretch?
Did you smile?
Was the first thing you heard the scrape of the stone as it opened?
Did you say anything to the angels?
Were you excited at the thought of seeing your friends again?
I have so many questions but here you are and, for now, that’s enough.
My Lord and My God.